The US Navy has announced its intention to fund four companies to design new unmanned air vehicles as part of its unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) programme.

Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman “have credible, existing, comprehensive UCLASS design solutions, and associated production capabilities and facilities” to design UAVs through the preliminary design review phase, the navy says.

The presolicitation, announced on 26 March, is the first step towards securing funding for the carrier-based strike and surveillance aircraft. A full solicitation is likely to go out “in the summer timeframe,” says the navy.

The first UCLASS aircraft are planned for production beginning in fiscal year 2016, following a likely downselect to a single manufacturer.

 X-47B - Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman

None of the involved companies had immediate comment, and all declined to share details of their proposals. All four have been working towards a UCLASS-capable aircraft for over a decade. In recent years, Northrop has won a navy contract to demonstrate the X-47B (above) onboard a carrier. General Atomics has developed and flown the jet-powered Avenger, while Lockheed has shown off a concept of a stealthy UAV for the requirement. Boeing has retired its Phantom Ray demonstrator, but has said it is prepared to compete for the contract.

Source: Flight International